“We‘re taking a step forward with the end customer in mind”
Francesc Serra, director of Torras
Russia and theUnited States are, in that order, the Torras fashion company’s main markets. At Torras, which has a history going back over sixty years, they are experts in combining knitwear with leather. Over the years, they have lived through several recessions and maybe because of that it is not surprising that in the present economic climate they have taken one of the most decisive steps forward in their history: that of opening the first sales outlet of their own in Milan’s Fashion District. It is a flagship boutique on the Via Manzoni in the luxury shopping area of the city.
This opening marks the start of the company’s international expansion in the shape of single-brand stores. The project, into which the company has been directing a vast amount of energy for months now, forms part of an agreement signed with the Chinese retail group JPC, to which the Torras brand has been licensed for the next fifteen years, exclusively for the Chinese market. The agreement will make it possible to open over a hundred shops in China. Three of them ─flagship stores─ will be opening in Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou, starting in 2013.
Torras began with the grandmother of the current managing director, Francesc Serra. It was back in 1951 that Josefa Torras decided to start to market the sweaters she herself made. A pioneer for her time, she not only founded a company, but also left behind her a heritage which three generations on continues to grow.
We talk to Francesc Serra about the opening of the Milan shop, the coming expansion into China and the future of the company, which, as he says, “will see the development of a women’s line.”
What has the experience of opening your own shop been like for you?
It’s a decisive step because it represents our image in the world and the whole of the company’s machinery has been geared to the project. You can’t open a shop in the Fashion District of Milan from one day to the next: we’ve been developing our total look for three years to make single-brand shops possible.
Weren’t there two already-existing Torras outlets?
Yes, there are two single-brand Torras stores, but these were opened by our distributor in the Russian market. They brought us a lot of prestige in Russia and neighbouring countries.
Why have you taken such an important step now?
Over the last few years, we’ve come to see that the future lies with opening our own single-brand stores. The multi-brand market is not likely to grow, rather there is a tendency in the opposite direction.
Five years ago, when you first had the idea of opening your own outlet, did you not foresee a recession like the present one?
No, but this is a medium- and long- term project. As a company we’re thinking in terms of 10 years.
Is there growth in the luxury market though?
Yes, but only in certain parts of the world. In Europe, consumers are buying fewer and fewer luxury items. Where the luxury market is growing is in countries like China and the US.
You are a family company with a great tradition, are you nervous about taking such decisive steps?
Not at all, quite the contrary. I’m really excited about this project. We’ve been out there on the world scene for 40 years.
What does having your own single-brand stores mean?
We will be able to communicate directly with the consumer and transmit a clearer concept of what Torras values are.
Does licensing your trademark for the Chinese market impose any conditions on the Torras concept?
No, the concept will still be genuinely Torras. We’ll be in the luxury market with our own personality. We’re not going into Chinato imitate anyone. All luxury brands have to have their own personality; if we don’t achieve that, we’ll never move forward.
What are your next moves, after opening the store in Milan?
If you’re not clear as to what your values are, you can’t make progress. The cost of being in Milanis very high and opening a shop there is only the first step in achieving the aims we have set ourselves: opening more single-brand outlets.
Have you stepped on the gas as far as internationalization is concerned?
Yes, definitely. Before the recession it was 50-50. Now 70% of our production goes to international markets.
Torras was founded by your grandmother, a lady who was skilled with a needle and courageous in business.
Very true, and what is so admirable about her is that despite being a woman, in 1951 she was daring enough to set up a company. It was no mean achievement for a woman to go and sell her own sweaters. She was trying to find something for her son, my father, to do because he was asthmatic and couldn’t work the land.
Did you father sew too?
She taught him to knit and then between them they began to industrialize the production process.
When was it decided that your way forward had to be different from that of the rest of the textile companies of the period?
My father soon saw that we would never get anywhere if we limited ourselves to sweaters. In the sixties, he decided to go and see what the leading countries, France and Italy, were doing. It was in Italy that he saw a company where they combined knitwear with leather; this was totally new to him.
What happened then?
We developed our own technology for making garments combining knitwear and leather. This allowed us to increase our presence in the home market, but also to gain access to international markets.
So you started going to international fairs back in the sixties?
Yes, that was an important step. As soon as you go international, your levels of quality have to be drastically improved and your designs have to be different from the rest: you’re competing with the whole world.
Was that when the Torras concept was born?
Yes, and what’s more, it was then that we decided that, although profit margins might be lower, it had to be our priority to make a name for ourselves internationally. Although the home market was doing well, that decision to prioritize the international aspect was very important. Back then, we took a step forward with the shopkeeper in mind and now we’re taking a step forward with the end customer in mind.